In parts one and two of our four-part series on increasing restaurant sales, we dove into how to use marketing and overall experience of your brand to draw in — and retain — customers. But how do you ensure those customers are spending more when they do dine with you? In part three, we narrow in on yet another facet in influencing your bottom line: increasing the average ticket size.
Every so often, we see a nightly news expose or popular website article about how businesses “trick” their customers into spending more money. The tenor of these pieces can be pretty harsh. But most restaurants — even on their best days — run on tight profit margins, offering a product that people often take for granted with a quality of personal service that is frequently under-appreciated. There’s no shame in wanting to see your business succeed, support your employees, and deliver an exceptional experience to your customer all at the same time.
Finding a balance between your bottom line and the care and best interests of your customer doesn’t need to be difficult. What it takes is a focus on the quality of experience you offer, maximizing enjoyment of the meal in a way that also benefits you financially. There are two key areas to consider when working with your staff and marketing team to increase spend: upselling and menu design.
Upselling, upsizing, and customization
How a server interacts with a customer from the moment they‘re seated can change everything about the quality, size, and price of the meal by the time they set their fork down. Customers expect a personable, but non-intrusive, demeanor from restaurant staff, but just being friendly and helpful isn’t enough to increase ticket size (and their percentage-based tip). Suggesting an appetizer or cocktail once seated, even going so far as to point out popular items, can set the tone for higher tickets right away.
As customers share their order, servers should not miss opportunities to suggest side dishes or other upgrades — in moderation. No one likes a hard sell. Train your servers to read nonverbal cues and not overstep in their eagerness to pile more onto the check. But by the same token, don’t rush your customers out of enjoying more of your menu either. Many a dessert upsell has vanished with a prematurely delivered check. Customers will rarely feel comfortable making you adjust a total to add on dessert if they see you have already rung up the meal.
Upselling is not just about adding whole dishes to an order, however. For the limited service sector, upsizing has long been a regular practice. Every cashier knows the drill. “Want to make that a combo? Would you like a large soda for only twenty-five cents more?” This practice isn’t lost to restaurant staff in other industry segments. Offering wine by the glass and the bottle, soup in cup and bowl sizes, or lunch and dinner-sized portions are standard opportunities you can give your waitstaff to suggest the value of the larger choice.
But limited service restaurants don’t always just offer size as an option. Giving consumers the option to add “extras” to their meal — such as avocado or more protein, or a housemade lemonade over a fountain drink — may seen like small increases, but those individual items add up to a lot of profit over time. Instruct your servers to clarify the quality of liquor — house brand or top shelf label — your guests prefer in their cocktails.
Most casual drinkers will prefer the brand they purchase themselves for home, and that can translate into a premium add-on. Depending on your menu, the same option can be offered for proteins, with different grades and origins of beef becoming more and more popular with consumers. Most grocery stores offer choice between conventional and organic produce or between conventional and cage-free/organic/sustainably raised proteins. If your inventory can support it on a limited number of dishes, why not offer that upsell opportunity on your menu as well?
It’s also important to consider customization that can be suggested by servers without disrupting your kitchen staff. According to research firm Technomic, the ability to personalize and customize menu items is a key millennial expectation in restaurant dining, particularly in the quick service and fast casual sectors. The future of your increased revenue likely rests with the generation that now outnumbers baby boomers — and wields roughly $200 billion in purchasing power nationally. So offering options on your dishes that play into that desire, at a reasonable per ingredient premium, is a win-win scenario for you and your customer.
Menu planning and design
We’ve seen this customization trend maximized on limited service pizza menus for years, with a plain cheese pizza offered at an attractively low price, but every topping adding an additional 50 cents to $1 charge. Customers get exactly what they want. Kitchen staff maintain a station set-up that allows for it. And restaurants can generate tickets that outpace those with exclusively pre-priced pizza options.
Constructing your entree menu — both in store and online — to prompt these types of customizations (gluten-free options, roasted instead of raw ingredients, gourmet cheeses) will not only increase ticket amounts, but will also make your customers feel like you care enough to accommodate their personal tastes and interests.
But even without offering a wide range of customization, there are many ways to impact ticket amount with menu design that don’t significantly change how your back of house functions. Limited service restaurants traditionally see a strong increase in spend every time they have a combo offer. Likewise, in the full service sector, smart pairings of appetizer and entree (or entree and wine) can be priced attractively to inspire customers that might have ordered an entree alone.
Tasting menus — where small portions of multiple dishes are offered at a single price — can also be an enticing opportunity for the adventurous or indecisive diner, with higher prices on those items generally meeting consumer expectation. The inverse to this would be limited service dollar-style menus or full service small plate menus, where customers can customize their entire order piece by piece.
Limited time offers are also a prime tool for increasing ticket amounts, as customers can be spurred to impulse purchase on something that may not be available the next time they visit.
Legibility plays a huge role in both making your guests more comfortable and increasing spend per visit. Yes, there are savvy choices like leaving the dollar sign ($) off of prices or using whole numbers without decimal places if your menu is filled with higher ticket items.
But the psychological impact of your menu structure is not limited to softening sticker shock. Having too many items crammed onto a menu page can overwhelm the consumer and lead to guests retreating to “safe” choices, i.e. ones that may be less creatively challenging, and therefore lower in price.
Highlighting special items in a boxed out area on the page can keep a customer’s eye coming back to it as they scan other items. Use descriptive language that makes higher priced dishes more enticing.
Would you be more likely to order “salmon in dill sauce” or a “pan-seared Atlantic salmon filet with garlic-infused crust, dressed with our chef’s classic dill rémoulade”? Your guests will ooo and ahh even before the dish arrives at their table. Their experience becomes about more than just taste, but an entire evening of intellectual pleasure, so long as their choices live up to the descriptions.
Of course, being able to incentivize a proportion of your diners to spend more through rewards of choice is also an excellent tool for increasing restaurant sales. Studies of actual dollar spend show that rewards-seekers, like members of Rewards Network, spend 13 percent more on average than their non-member counterparts.
The drive to get a better value for their money, even if it means spending more, remains a powerful motivator that restaurants can profit from. And at the end of the night, both you and your customers benefit — no trick to it.
Continue on to Part 4 of our series on the four ways to increase restaurant sales: increasing table turns and flow-through.